The Navy is grappling with even more questions about the physiological episodes its fighter pilots have been facing, after Carrier Air Wing 8 deployed with additional tools to measure and treat PEs and returned with less clarity on the connection between cabin pressure and physical side effects.
In April the Navy directed a 30-day comprehensive review of physiological episodes, which led to the requirement to have a single aviator leading the investigation effort for the Navy. In August Capt. Sara Joyner was tasked with leading the PE investigation effort.
Joyner and Carrier Air Wing 8 commander Capt. James McCall spoke to two reporters today to talk about the progress in studying, measuring, treating and attempting to predict physiological episodes – which include decompression sickness from pressure fluctuations or hypoxia from insufficient or contaminated oxygen.
A major ongoing challenge, McCall said, is that a physiological event is defined not by cabin pressure or oxygen levels, but rather how that environment affects the body – and there are so many variables at play that the Navy still doesn’t have a good understanding of what combines to create a harmful situation for a pilot’s body.
“I have watched what I would consider to be the exact same pressure profiles on the slam stick affect two different aircrews completely differently,” McCall said, referring to a USB stick-sized device that precisely measures and digitally records cabin pressure throughout a flight.
“In one case, completely asymptomatic on the aircrew, he didn’t even feel the need to report anything, he just felt very normal. And the other aircrew we ended up sending to a…